It’s game week.
And with the first game week of the 2019 season comes the first depth chart of the 2019 season. Nebraska released it Monday morning, and though a lot of the two-deep was either already known or expected, there were still some interesting decisions.
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) August 26, 2019
Notes on the Offense
>> At the top of the list of noteworthy decisions is the Huskers’ naming of Noah Vedral as Adrian Martinez’s primary backup at quarterback. Vedral, a third-year sophomore, beat out true freshman Luke McCaffrey and sophomore walk-on Andrew Bunch in a competition that proved tighter than anyone, coaches included, expected heading into fall camp.
Vedral’s in his third year in Coach Scott Frost’s offense, so from a mental standpoint, he knows the scheme as well as anyone, but he did not begin last season as the primary backup while waiting on a waiver to play after transferring from UCF. Bunch had that honor to begin the season. Once Vedral was granted immediate eligibility midway through the year, he supplanted Bunch as QB2.
McCaffrey enrolled early at Nebraska, then spent his entire offseason surprising coaches and fellow teammates with his work ethic and commitment to the playbook.
“All I can say is as a teammate and a fellow competitor at that spot is he’s a talented dude and has a chance to do some special things in college,” Vedral said of McCaffrey. “He’s a very hard worker, he’s here all the time. He’s a smart kid. He’s committed to doing kind of the freshman due diligence of learning and trying to memorize and put all that stuff in his memory bank so when he gets on the field he doesn’t have to think anymore. It’s a time commitment he has to get through as a freshman and he’s done a really amazing job at getting that stuff stored away and ready to go when he needs to call on it.”
McCaffrey will begin the year as the third quarterback on the depth chart, likely headed for a redshirt in his first year.
>> Nebraska surprisingly has an "OR" designation at the top running back spot. Freshman Rahmir Johnson and senior Wyatt Mazour share the No. 3 designation, but sophomore Maurice Washington and junior college transfer Dedrick Mills will enter the week sharing the top spot for two different reasons.
Mills, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Georgia native, has missed recent practices for an unspecified reason. Washington, on the other hand, is dealing with a legal case in California courts that has yet to come to a resolution.
News broke in February that Washington was facing two charges—one misdemeanor and one felony—in Santa Clara County stemming from an incident that occurred before he enrolled at UNL. Throughout the process, Frost has maintained that a decision on Washington's football status would not precede a decision on his legal status. He did not play in the Huskers' spring game, but was a full participant in fall camp.
"We're starting to get more information about that," Frost said about the situation last Friday. "He's had a great camp. I want to do what's right. I also want to do what's best for the kid, so I think it's getting close to the time where we're going to make a decision, but nothing's final yet."
Washington's next court date is Sept. 3, though he is not required to be physically present. Frost will address the media on Monday and could possibly give a further update on the young runner.
>> As expected, redshirt freshman Cameron Jurgens will begin the season as the team's top center. Fellow redshirt freshman Will Farniok took the bulk of the first-team reps during fall camp with Jurgens rehabbing an injury, but Jurgens returned to practice last week. Frost called him a "game-changer" for the Husker offense. Nebraska has high hopes for the converted tight end.
>> Offensive coordinator and wideout coach Troy Walters’ room has the fewest known commodities of any position group on the team. These are the three spots on the depth chart that stand to fluctuate the most from week to week.
Stanley Morgan Jr. led the team in receiving yards last season and he’s now running his routes in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform. After JD Spielman (818 yards), Nebraska’s next three pass-catchers by production were Jack Stoll, Maurice Washington and Devine Ozigbo. Everyone in the room will get their chance at some point or another.
Kanawai Noa, a grad transfer from Cal, and Wan’Dale Robinson, one of the crown jewels of the 2019 recruiting class, will both start next to Spielman, though Noa shares the “starter” title with senior Mike Williams. Both Robinson and Noa dealt with injuries late in camp that cost them reps.
Williams was a starter to begin the 2018 season, but ceded his spot to Kade Warner because of blocking troubles. He ended the season with 122 yards on 12 catches.
Notes on the Defense/Special Teams
>> Nebraska's return men to begin the season will be Maurice Washington and/or Wan'Dale Robinson for kickoffs and JD Spielman for punt returns.
The Huskers ranked 123rd in the country last year in average starting field position, and they have just one punt return for a score since 2014 (last season against Bethune-Cookman).
>> There aren't many surprises at inside linebacker, though true freshman Jackson Hannah is not in the two-deep, losing that battle to walk-on Joey Johnson. There are a few surprises at outside linebacker, though. Alex Davis is a starter after being the talk of the offseason, but senior Tyrin Ferguson is sharing the No. 2 spot behind Davis with freshman Garrett Nelson. Caleb Tannor had a strong summer and turned that into an “OR” designation on the two-deep with JoJo Domann at the other No. 1 outside linebacker spot.
>> Jahkeem Green, a late camp arrival, did not earn a spot on the two-deep after coming in a little out of shape.
At left end will be Carlos Davis, with Deontre Thomas the No. 2. Junior Ben Stille also lost his starting job from last season, as senior Khalil Davis earns the top spot at right end. Stille will back him up. It will be interesting to see how line coach Tony Tuioti manages the rotation on the line this season.
>> Sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor, as expected, is going to play, evidenced by his standing on the team's first depth chart. He earned an “OR” designation at the No. 1 corner spot with Lamar Jackson, a senior who has started for the last three years.
Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander want to get Taylor on the field any way possible. Taylor even played as a linebacker in a handful of packages during fall camp. He'll likely be the first guy off the bench for the secondary regardless of where he plays at.
Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams earned starter status at safety, as expected, but the news at that spot is Isaiah Stalbird earning the No. 2 job behind Dismuke.
Quinton Newsome is the only freshman defensive back on the two-deep, earning an “OR” designation with Braxton Clark for the No. 2 corner spot behind Dicaprio Bootle.
>> The battle at punter, which special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said last week was very much a real competition, ends with Isaac Armstrong atop the depth chart.
Armstrong took over starting duties midway through last season and was lights out. He averaged 43.6 yards a punt (ninth-best average in program history) and downed 10 of his 32 kicks inside the 20-yard-line.